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School CP - July 2001
Daily Nation, Nairobi, 4 July 2001
Caning Ban Debate Rages OnBy Kariuki Waihenya
The ban on caning will lead to an escalation of indiscipline in schools and a decline in educational standards.
Starehe Boys' Centre Director, Dr Geoffrey Griffin, said the standards of discipline in a majority of schools were "horrific already and they are bound to get worse with the ban".
"This will translate to poor academic standards, especially because of numerous riots and strikes," he said.
Dr Griffin took issue with the way the ban was issued, saying the Government was bowing to international pressure and that little consideration was made of the implications.
"The government ought to have phased out caning in a systematic and gradual process. It ought to have started with day schools, slowly moving to boarding schools over a long period," Dr Griffin told the Press after addressing participants at an International School Leaders Seminar.
The ban was issued last April by then Education Minister Kalonzo Musyoka, through a gazette notice. It was the pre-dominant topic during the recent headteachers annual conference, whose theme was: Discipline in educational institutions at a crossroads.
With day schools, Dr Griffin explained, the headteachers could afford to summon parents to sort out problems associated with their children. But it was difficult to involve parents in boarding schools because of logistics.
"If you are dealing with 1,000 adolescents, a number of them are likely to be involved in misdemeanours which can only be corrected by the professional use of the cane," said Dr Griffin. "A teacher in a boarding school is a surrogate parent and is obliged to ensure discipline is upheld. After all, if it is not against the law for parents to use the cane on their children, why should the same power be taken away from teachers?"
He said corporal punishment was quick and efficient, but he cautioned that its use could be counterproductive if it was not applied with modesty. "Some of our teachers are sadistic and brutal and have been merciless in applying the cane. This has to be curbed."
If the previous regulations set out in the Education Act were followed strictly, no injuries would result from caning errant students, he said.
"It seems like we're coming from one extreme where children have been injured and died as a result of the cane, and settling on another, which is also not good. I am afraid discipline will collapse and standards will fall," he said.
Copyright © 2001 The Nation.
Daily Nation, Nairobi, 18 July 2001
Talks On School Discipline LaunchedBy Nation Team
The Education Ministry is consulting with parents and teachers to find ways of reducing indiscipline in schools.
Cabinet Minister Henry Kosgey said yesterday a "comprehensive guide" on discipline would be formulated and would be made public next month.
Addressing a press conference at his Jogoo House office, the minister said cases of indiscipline in schools had become "too frequent, and we are worried that the learning system is being badly interfered with by too much disorder".
Mr Kosgey said he did not believe the rise in indiscipline was directly related to the ban on caning, and instead blamed headteachers who did not encourage dialogue with students.
Explaining why the government imposed the ban, the minister said: "Since we outlawed the cane, there have been protests, particularly from teachers, clear evidence that the use of the cane was rampant in schools. It is a confirmation that provisions spelling out the use of the cane in the Education Act were flouted and consistently abused."
Cases of indiscipline have increased in schools lately, most of them involving arson, and protests over poor relationships between headteachers and students. Common complaints include poor food and high-handedness on the part of the heads.
This month, cases of indiscipline have been reported in at least 15 schools. A number of them have been closed indefinitely, while some students have been charged in court with either planning to set their schools on fire or causing the deaths of their colleagues through arson.
Secondary school headteachers attending their annual conference last month expressed fears that the ban would lead to the collapse of discipline. The meeting discussed the theme: "Education Management: Discipline in schools at a crossroads".
Mr Kosgey said several meetings with education stakeholders, including sponsors and Parents Teachers Associations, had been planned and that "comprehensive rules on how to deal with errant students would be set".
Meanwhile, the rate of indiscipline in Central Province has reached a record high, with cases of students' disturbances being reported in 16 schools last weekend.
Central Provincial Police boss Enock Cheserek attributed the wave of unrest to tension over mock examinations, which started last week.
Police are keeping a close eye on schools to ensure the situation does not get out of hand.
Elsewhere, the Central Provincial Director of Education, Mr Peter Macharia, said turning boarding schools into day institutions would not end indiscipline.
He was reacting to a suggestion by Murang'a District Commissioner Obondo Kajumbi last week.
Mr Macharia said there were many reputable boarding schools, which had not experienced any riots for many years.
Reports by Kariuki Waihenya, Muthui Mwai and Patrick Mathangani
Copyright © 2001 The Nation.
Daily Nation, Nairobi, 20 July 2001
Crisis Teams Set Up to End School Riots
(extracts)By Nation Team
Top Education ministry officials were in an emergency meeting yesterday over a wave of student unrest which has led to the closure of 30 schools in just one month.
Even as the talks were going on, students from one of Kenya's oldest schools staged a protest march through the Nairobi city centre while candidates at a riot- hit polytechnic in Eldoret sat their examinations under armed police protection.
The meeting at Jogoo House, Nairobi, was reportedly chaired by education permanent secretary Japheth Kiptoon and its agenda was the strikes and riots in schools and colleges across the country.
It was the latest attempt to confront the crisis, which has led to the death of one student being burnt to death since 54 pupils were killed in a dormitory fire at Kyanguli Secondary School in Machakos.
Prof Kiptoon announced that national and provincial committees had been set up to investigate the problem and report to the ministry.
The provincial committees are headed by the local directors of education and the national one is headed by the director of education, Mrs Naomi Wangai.
Yesterday, Prof Kiptoon announced that preliminary findings of investigations into the disturbances showed drug abuse as a common cause.
But teachers also blamed peer influence and test phobia as schools approach their mock examinations.
He said the disruptions mirrored changes in Kenyan society over the past two decades. Whereas students were in the past prepared for jobs after school, now they were expected to fend for themselves since the job market was flooded, he said.
"They do not see themselves as having a future as good as or better than their parents. They see themselves in a state of despondency. They see a hopeless future for themselves," he said.
A growing number of students were involved in drugs abuse, he said, and attempts by school heads to carry out investigations resulted in riots.
"There was over-protection by parents, " he said, appealing for support for efforts by school heads to enforce discipline and root out drug abuse.
He hinted that the abolition of caning may not have a direct bearing on the increase in student protests as the decision was annnounced only recently. "What we are seeing is an acccumulation of problems that have existed all along," he said.
The most common drugs in schools were cigarettes, bhang, alchohol and cocaine. Some of these were sniffed in handkerchiefs.
"If parents support their children in school unrest then a situation may arise where the children will challenge their parents' authority in the home.
More than 30 schools have been closed in the past month. The worst hit has been Central Province where 16 school have been closed in Murang'a District alone this year.
Copyright © 2001 The Nation.
Daily Nation, Nairobi, 21 July 2001
Old Grievances Take On New Proportions
(extracts)By Kariuki Waihenya
With the strike at Alliance Girls School, several questions have been raised about the effect of the ban of caning on discipline in schools.
The wave of unrest among students countrywide has brought to the fore fears expressed by headteachers at their annual conference last month that discipline in schools might collapse unless new school management strategies are sought.
The cost of these strikes and boycotts in terms of learning time, threat to life and injuries is worrying.
The March Kyanguli fire tragedy in which 67 students perished is fresh in the minds of many Kenyans, who had hoped that this chapter was closed, at least for some time.
But reports of foiled arson attacks in Lelmokwo and Cherangany schools in Nandi, Shimo la Tewa in Coast, Isebania in Kuria and Ramba in Nyanza have scattered all such hopes.
About 30 boarding schools have been closed in the latest wave of unrest and observers have reason to believe that more might follow.
A common thread runs through the litany of student grievances; high-handedness on the part of school managers, strict rules, poor living conditions and poor quality food.
Most Kenyans who have been in boarding schools say these are complaints that have been there for as long as they can remember and they did not cause them to waste the opportunity to get an education.
Although the ban on the cane has been supported by many education stakeholders, some thought that it was done abruptly and that it was wrong not to have put in place measures to replace the punishment.
Said a Nairobi headteacher who declined to be named: "You cannot run schools by issuing decrees without consulting the people on the ground. If you must take away a certain aspect of the power of principals as far as discipline is concerned, you should not leave a vacuum."
Teachers have complained that students have misunderstood the ban to mean that they should not be punished at all.
And teachers, fearing litigation by parents, have adopted a soft approach to discipline. Headteachers are not even empowered to expel students and even suspensions have to be sanctioned by school boards and education officers.
However, all is not lost. Teachers are planning meetings to consult on how to avert a deeper crisis.
The chairman of the Kenya Secondary School Heads Association, Mr David Okech, says the executive committee has scheduled several meetings next week to draw up proposals on how to end the riots.
It is no secret that inspection of schools is rare and haphazard. Although there is a whole department of the inspectorate, a shortage of funds has made it difficult to operate.
The upshot is that ministerial guidelines are issued but are never implemented.
A case in point are the safety guidelines issued after the Kyanguli tragedy. Due to lack of follow-up, many schools have disregarded them.
Although Mr Kosgey says the department is being revamped, there is no evidence that a move is being made in that direction.
Copyright © 2001 The Nation.
Daily Nation, Nairobi, 29 July 2001
The Cane And Shoddy Management In SchoolsBy Gitau Warigi
Something is terribly wrong in our schools. Riots and demonstrations and closures are sweeping like a plague. Even institutions like Alliance Girls School which are considered to be crown jewels of our secondary school system are no longer immune.
That there is a problem festering within is no longer in dispute. The issue is: what exactly is it? Is it drugs? Is it the shambolic 8-4-4 system? Or is it the famous ban on corporal punishment, as the teaching fraternity and the chattering classes have taken to moaning?
There are no easy answers. Caning, much as it is cited as an issue, is probably not the solution. Corporal punishment does not feature in normal girls' schools, yet they are in the same ferment that we find in the boys' schools.
In such model schools like Strathmore, the proper approach to discipline is not taken to be through the inflicting of pain. There are no prefects in the place even. Yet disturbances are totally un-heard of there. The level of personal responsibility students there exhibit is simply amazing.
The problem with the caning ban, I think, was the very public and abrupt way it was communicated. This sent a bad signal to certain pupils. There also needed to be more consultation with the headteachers and parents' associations on matters such as the timing of the ban.
Most criticism exaggerated
One thing is for sure: there is considerable mismanagement in many schools. Granted, a lot of the criticism levelled at headteachers is exaggerated, and only works to demoralise them, but it is nevertheless true that too many of our non-elite schools that dot the country are run by headteachers whose management skills are wanting.
Running a school well is not like running a company or a farmers' co-operative. It is a lot more complicated. Keep in mind you are dealing with teenage youngsters who are in a very emotionally delicate stage of their development. You mishandle them at this point, and you mess them up for life.
Another thing. Schools these days are everywhere being run on shoe-string budgets. There is no money. This forces headteachers to spend a lot of their working time on schemes to make ends meet just so their institutions can survive.
There is usually very little time left, or even the inclination, to spare sufficient attention to the kids. That is left to the class teachers, who tend to be primarily interested in what they teach rather than in the emotional development of their charges.
There's increased delegating
Again, teachers have become too pre-occupied with other things that they are increasingly delegating plenty of routine supervisory work to prefects. If taken too far, this trend can be dangerous. We have all heard of the ghastly cases of prefects being torched with petrol by their student peers who resent the expansive power they are allowed to wield. Worryingly, such copy-cat crimes have been multiplying.
The core problem, in my view, is the lack of proper counselling in our schools. Church-run schools with a strong religious and moral grounding like Precious Blood, Riruta, have no discipline trouble because of the importance they attach to student counselling and guidance.
Several counsellors are attached to these schools, who in most cases happen to be teachers themselves. Problem pupils are identified early and given constant attention. Their parents get frequent updates on how the pupils are coping. It's all done very professionally.
The tragedy of our modern education system is the virtual abdication by parents of their duty when it comes to the school environment and pupil discipline. While it is teachers who get all the blame, the problem really originates with the parents.
Once they deposit their child in school, that is the end of the matter as far as many a parent is concerned. It is assumed the teacher will take care of everything up to and until the child gets back home. Parents these days find it more worthwhile to talk about politics or how to make money rather than how the children are doing in school.
Hardly any of them will spare a second to drop a call to the teacher to find out how the child is behaving. School functions where parents are invited are usually attended only by a handful. The child ends up having life in school and at home utterly compartmentalised. This is a pity.
No discussion about welfare
By and large, PTAs and School Boards deserve to be commended for the volunteer time they put in, but much of their deliberation ends up being about raising school finances rather than on the personal welfare of the pupils.
As they say, to bring up a child is a collective activity. To expect the teacher to shoulder all the responsibility alone is wrong. Parents need to get more involved in the life of the schools where their children are getting educated. It is through such involvement that we are going to see less of the turmoil we have been seeing of late.
I do not agree with the suggestion that part of the answer to school indiscipline lies in phasing out boarding schools. And this is not just because indiscipline cuts across boarding schools to non-boarding ones as well. For anybody who went through a sound boarding school, that was an important formative experience that should not be dispensed with.
It is probably naive to expect there will not be any turmoil in schools when everything else around which the pupils can see in in such a mess. Kids they may be, but secondary school pupils are certainly old enough to recognise things getting haywire, like when incompetent but well-connected headteachers are promoted to replace more worthy ones. They also know, like in the A-list schools, those colleagues of theirs who owe their admission not to merit but to their parents' connections.
A final thing. The political leadership of the education system leaves a lot to be desired. The PS, Japheth Kiptoon, has said he is not losing a wink of sleep over the schools' unrest. His new minister, Henry Kosgey, is no more reassuring. Inexplicably, he skipped the first important public function of his tenure - a meeting of the country's secondary school headteachers. It was a very bad omen.
Copyright © 2001 The Nation.
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